Changing what and how I eat has always been a struggle for me, and definitely the biggest struggle when it comes to adopting a healthier lifestyle. There just seems to be so much extra stuff it introduces, and I have a lot of old thought patterns about healthy food being gross. In the past I’ve also struggled with feelings of deprivation and cravings, then binging. I’m definitely not always on point when it comes to nutrition, but I can tell you that it is something that’s important to me, and I’ve learned a lot on my own journey/experimentations with healthy eating. It’s also something that I believe you have to define for yourself. With all that being said, here are 5 tips I have learned from my experience.
1. Stop taking it so seriously.
Seriously. I think this is something I wasted so much emotional energy on. I would come up with an idea in my head like, “Okay, I’m going to eat healthy this week. No sugar,” and if i varied even ONCE from that, I would beat myself up and make it mean all kinds of terrible things about myself. The thing about change is that our brains don’t like it. So you have to go into changes knowing that you’ll have setbacks, that you won’t be perfect. Don’t take it so seriously that you believe you’re deficient every time you make a mistake.
2. Write a very specific plan ahead of time.
I denied this one for a long time, but it’s actually super vital. Sorry guys. 😉 But when you do planning right, it actually frees up SO much mental energy for you; energy that you can use on focusing when things get hard. So ahead of time, plan out exactly what you are going to eat. This includes any treats you want to have (more about that in a minute). This takes out all the guess work for your brain ahead of time so that when you’re hungry and standing in front of the fridge you are more likely to go with the healthier option that you’ve already planned and shopped for. And you can make it work for you, there’s no right or wrong way. I’ve known people who plan out their meals for a month. Others do it weekly (this is my favorite method, personally). Other people literally just think about it and write it down each night before bed. The point is to PLAN AHEAD. You can meal prep too if you’re into that: even more stress that you’ve just taken off your brain. (I personally do not meal prep, but it’s a goal of mine.)
3. Allow yourself some treats but plan out specifically what they will be and when you’ll have them.
When you’re doing your meal planning, throw a treat or two in there per week, especially at first. A friend and mentor of mine calls this a “joy eat”. I like this because it has the right connotation. A “cheat meal” just sounds wrong to me. But that’s my own opinion, do what you want 🙂 But whatever you call it, you MUST plan it ahead of time. Firstly, it gives your brain something to look forward to in hard moments. Secondly, it lets your brain know that you’re not going to be straight up depriving yourself of ALL sugar FOREVER. That kind of thinking leads to binging, in my experience. Also, I hear a lot of people say, “It’s so hard for me to have just ONE cookie, or just ONE small bowl of chips.” To this is say, it’s lrobably because you haven’t planned it out in advance. It’s come across your path, you’ve decided (in the moment) to eat just one, but your brain didn’t have a plan or know what to expect ahead of time, and it reaaallly REALLY likes calorie dense foods so it will tell you that you need to keep eating more. Think about it: if our ancestors came across a fruit tree, it made total sense for them (as nomadic foragers) to eat as much as they possibly could in one sitting in order to survive and stockpile until the next time they found food. But now we have “fruit trees” all around us. So it helps a ton to be intentional about what treats we’re going to eat and plan it out ahead of time. (Also, see #1, don’t beat yourself up if you go off your plan. Simply move forward.)
3. Count your cravings.
This is a really cool concept that a mentor of mine, Brooke Castillo, explained a bit in one of her latest podcasts (go listen to it, it’s amazing). All a craving is is a chemical reaction in your body. It’s your brain seeking out dopamine or nutrients or whatever it needs. But our brain is like a toddler in the grocery store—crying and whining for a treat. When we give into the toddler, they learn that crying and whining like that is a good way to get the treat at the grocery store. But if we don’t give into it, eventually they will stop asking. Now, I know it may be hard to believe that if you stop giving into cravings they will go away, but it actually works. Brooke’s theory is that if you deny a craving 100 times, then you’ll stop getting that craving. So she literally suggests writing on a piece of paper every time you feel a craving, all the way until you get to 100. It can be tally marks, or you can write the numbers 1-100 and then cross them off, whatever you want. But try it! You’ve got nothing to lose. And remember, most of the time when we want a treat, it’s beause we are trying to avoid feeling an EMOTION. Which brings me to my next tip.
4. Be willing to feel any and all emotions.
This is so important. Before we engage in any kind of health and wellness journey, we typically get really afraid of the feelings we might feel. Deprivation. Stress. Anger. Irritation. Loneliness. Sadness. Anxiety (talking about the feeling here, not the actual condition). Overwhelm. These are just some of the most common. But when you are willing to feel more negative emotion in your life, that’s when you’ll start pushing forward towards your goals. Also, when you eat and watch several episodes of your show on Netflix in one sitting INSTEAD of feeling that negative emotion, all you’re doing is denying that part of yourself and causing yourself physical and emotional damage along the way. If you really want to live a more healthy lifestyle, you have to be willing to feel whatever feelings come up for you, and many of them will be negative ones. That’s okay. You’ve survived every negative feeling you’ve had up until this point; believe you can survive these ones too.
5. Get curious about ways that you can make it fun/easier.
Go into a new way of eating beliving it will be crappy is kind of a buzz kill. It may or may not be true (as I said before, you’ll feel a lot of negative emotion), but instead of going into it defeated, try going into it curiously. Brainstorm ways and ideas that you can make it fun. There’s a website called Healthy Wage that you can bet on how much weight you’ll lose and if you reach your goal, they’ll pay you. There are countless supper groups and meet ups that you can join with other people that have similar goals and want to support each other. To make things easier, you can get those frozen veggie packs that you steam in the microwave, but pre-packages salads, put going out to eat on your meal plan, but plan to order something healthy—there are endless possibilities. But our brains will only think of them if we get curious and creative.Plus, we have the internet: a place where the collective brain of humanity puts all their ideas and we can access them at almost any time! So choose thoughts like, “I wonder how I could make this fun? Is there an easier way to do this? I wonder if I’m wrong about this being so hard. What people are out there who have reached the goal I’m trying to reach, and what kind of thoughts do they have that I don’t yet?” This kind of mindset will help you come up with ideas, instead of stay stuck in old ways of thinking.
I hope you try some of these ideas and tips. I know they’ve helped me a lot. It doesn’t mean that I’m perfect, because I most definitely am not. I have good days and bad days. But whenever I apply and try these tips, eating healthy gets SO much easier. Which one of these tips do you think will help you?